Authentic Carbonara

Oh, Carbonara, how I miss you. One of my favorite things about visiting Italy, Rome specifically, was bowls upon bowls of Carbonara. Velvety carbonara sauce is just dreamy…

overhead shot of pan of authentic carbonara


 

Authentic Carbonara is an Italian pasta recipe using eggs, cheese and bacon, while the ingredient list is simple, the execution, particularly raw egg yolks, can be challenging or at the very least, intimidating.

The truth is this is a rich dish, but not challenging and you only need a few key ingredients. It comes together in a snap and is perfect for busy weeknights.

In the States

Authentic Carbonara is something you don’t see on many Italian American menus and quite frankly, you don’t really see it all that much outside of Rome unless you are at a super touristy restaurant, of which I try to avoid. It is seen as a classic Italian pasta dish. Usually served in warm server bowls, it is pure comfort food.

You might also see it referred to as pasta carbonara or spaghetti alla carbonara, some just spaghetti carbonara or pasta alla carbonara.

And in some restaurants, they call some sort of alfredo carbonara. It is nearly impossible to make carbonara sauce without hot, fresh pasta. It also includes using heavy cream.

The Basics

A good dish of carbonara goes back to the basic elements of Italian cooking. Good, simple ingredients. You won’t find dishes with 15 ingredients and tons of toppings in Italy. Nearly all of them are limited to 10 and under.

While Carbonara is a very simple recipe and in fact, very fast to make, it still scares the crap out of most Americans to make it at home. I am not sure if it is the fear of cooking with raw egg, not moving fast enough to make the velvety sauce instead of pasta with scrambled egg.

I had a close friend tell me her kitchen as never been messier and she was never as fearful to make as dish as she was when she made carbonara. The pressure to move fast was just overwhelming. While it is true you can’t dilly dally around the kitchen and time is important, it will also be ok if you don’t move at warp speed.

There are only a couple of basic elements: pasta, pork (bacon or pancetta), cheese (most commonly percerino romano), egg, salt and pepper. Minus the egg and you have cacio e pepe.

Pasta

First, you must choose your pasta. With over 500 shapes, it is very true that each was designed specifically with a sauce in mind. Carbonara pairs best with thick, eggy long noodles cooked al dente, or in some cases even a little under.

It is most popular in the states with spaghetti (spaghetti carbonara) or wide, flat noodles like fettuccine, but I like mine with bucatini, a fatter, round spaghetti with a hollow center. You’ll see it made most with this type of pasta in Rome too.

I’ve tried Carbonara with cappellini and even tubed pasta like rigatoni and it just doesn’t turn out the same. I have, however, had good luck with gnocchi carbonara.

Bacon or Pancetta

Second it the first of the fats, the pork, which serves two purposes. First it, flavors the dish, as any fat is really the base flavor of all dishes.

And secondly, the rendered bacon fat coats your noodles and allows the sauce to comes together without turning into just egg.

Pancetta is the most traditional of pork used, but I typically end up using bacon because it is cheaper and easier to find. Pork jowl is also used in fancier establishments.

What is the difference between pancetta and bacon? Both are pork belly, but bacon is typically cured, smoked and sliced while pancetta is cured and left into a whole chunk, making it easier to cut into larger pieces, or as the French say, lardons.

The bacon and rendered fast can be prepared ahead of time. I make this dish for dinner parties quite frequently and do this step ahead so I just need to boil the pasta and toss.

Guanciale, an Italian cured pork made from the jowls or cheeks is also sometimes used. it is quite tender and doesn’t have as much rendered fat.

Can I make carbonara without bacon? Yes! You will still need a fat to coat the pasta with, so instead of rendered bacon fat, use heated olive oil or butter.

overhead shot of pancetta cooking in pan

Cheese

The cheese comes next. Pecorino romano cheese is most commonly used, but any hard cheese, like Parmesan cheese, parmigiano reggiano or any hard Italian cheese will work.

I wait to season with salt until the very end because these hard, brined cheese also provide a salty profile and vary greatly from cheese to cheese. Some carbonara sauces won’t need any additional salting if the cheese (and bacon) is also salty.

Raw Egg in Carbonara

And of course, the egg. My only advice is to use the freshest eggs you can come by since carbonara is only a lightly cooked egg sauce.

Can I get sick from eating raw eggs in carbonara? You can sick from eating anything, raw or not, but the risk is so low that I don’t even worry about it. Many eggs are even pasteurized (heat treated) and fresh eggs, don’t even require refrigeration.

Try for the freshest eggs you can and know that the sauce is partially cooked. Just as cooked as a benedict sauce, if you eat eggs benedict. You can also look for eggs that specify they have been pasteurized.

Can I make carbonara without eggs? Unfortunately, not eggs are the base of the sauce and there is no good substitution.

very close up shot of carbonara in pan

Creamy Carbonara Sauce

It all comes together with a little hot pasta water. Why not just regular water? Because pasta water is has some gluten in it- it is a little thickened. And also has flavor.

What if I forgot to reserve some of the pasta water? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve done this. My husband hears the curse word from the kitchen and he doesn’t even ask, instead yelling in “forgot to save some water!” I even put the measuring cup with a ladle right by the cooktop, still I fail.

So I have also become really good and finding alternate solutions. The easiest is just a small amount of cornstarch in water. About 1 tablespoon for 1 cup of water. Afterall, pasta water is just starchy water.

What is my sauce is lumpy? Let me tell ya, the one thing I learned while in Rome was that most Carbonaras are a little lumpy. You can add more pasta water to thin it out, but your lumps might also just be cheese and that is totally acceptable!

very close up shot of carbonara

How to Make Carbonara

After you have the knowledge of how it all comes together and why, the rest is fairly easy.

  1. Cook pasta. Cook the pasta to al dente in a large pot of salted water and drain, set aside. If you are cooking it ahead of time, toss in a little olive oil.
  2. Cook bacon. Brown and crisp bacon in a large frying pan. Leave 1-2 tablespoons of the hot bacon fat in the pan, scooping out bacon with a slotted spoon. Set the cooked bacon aside.
  3. Whisk eggs, cheese and pasta water. In a mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, cheese and a bit of pasta water.
  4. Toss pasta in bacon grease. Add the cooked pasta to the bacon grease, tossing to coat.
  5. Toss cheese and egg mixture into pasta. Quickly and with tongs, toss with beaten eggs and cheese mixture and pasta water. Add more pasta water to thin.
  6. Add bacon. Toss until it thickens- the egg mixture should do the trick fast! Add crispy bacon back to mixture.
  7. Garnish and serve. Serve immediately and season with freshly black pepper and additional salt, if needed.

Some folks also like fresh garlic in the mix, add it to the bacon fat to cook slightly before you add the pasta. You can also top your pasta with scallops, peas, sun dried tomatoes or sliced scallions.

Storage & Reheating

I would like to tell you YES carbonara can be reheated, but the sad truth is it never tastes the same as fresh and the creamy sauce gets a little cakey. Never. I’ve tried it so many ways, but it is really hard. The best way is to reheat it is to use cream, making it almost an alfredo.

Heat a small amount (1/2 cup or so) of cream in a saucepan, when simmering, add leftover carbonara and toss until hot. It might not ever be piping hot, but it will be more than room temperature. Add more pecorino romano until makeshift sauce thickens.

Can I Freeze Carbonara?

I would not recommend doing this. The sauce can’t be separated from the pasta and it doesn’t reheat well.

More Classic Italian Recipes

Italian or not, these are some basic Italian recipes that are great to have in your recipe box.

angle view of chicken in piccata sauce

Chicken Piccata Recipe

4.76 from 57 votes
Classic Chicken Piccata is an easy Italian recipe that comes together in less than 30 minutes and explodes with flavors of lemon, caper and shallot.
See The Recipe!
plate of chicken cacciatore and pasta

Chicken Cacciatore

4.91 from 10 votes
Easy Chicken Cacciatore uses tender chicken in a tomato sauce with mushrooms, bell peppers, olives and herbs. Only takes 30 minutes from stove to plate!
See The Recipe!
close up bowl of creamy italian pastina with cheese

Creamy Pastina Recipe

4.37 from 19 votes
This quick and easy pastina recipe uses butter, cheese and broth for a quick, simple and comforting meal. Perfect for little kids and adults!
See The Recipe!
overhead shot of pan of carbonara with text overlay
overhead shot of pan of authentic carbonara

Easy Authentic Carbonara Recipe

4.16 from 40 votes
Authentic Carbonara is an easy Italian pasta recipe using eggs, cheese and bacon. This is an easy carbonara recipe that any home cook can feel confident in making! 
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 25 minutes
Servings: 6

Ingredients

Instructions

  • In a large pot, boil enough water for pasta. When it comes to a rolling boil, add 1 tablespoon coarse kosher salt.
  • Cook pasta according to package directions or al dente, or even 1 minute less.
  • When pasta is done, ladle out about 1 cup of starchy boiling water to a heat safe measuring cup. Drain pasta and set aside.
  • In a large skillet, cooking bacon or pancetta over medium heat. Use a skillet that might seem too large for this task because you will be using the same one to toss your pasta later, so it needs to be large enough to accomodate 1 pound of cooked pasta.
  • Cook bacon until cooked, but not crispy. Remove bacon to a paper towel lined plate, but reserve rendered bacon grease.
  • Eyeballing it, reserve about 2 tablespoons of bacon fat, discarding the rest. Set skillet aside.
  • In a medium bowl, whisk 2 whole eggs with 4 egg yolks. After whisked, combine with pecorino romano cheese and about 2 tablespoons reserved pasta water. Set aside.
  • Add pasta to the skillet and toss well with bacon fat.
  • Remove from heat (or just turn off burner) and try to pile pasta in the center. Using tongs, slowly pour the egg mixture over the hot pasta, tossing fast to heat the sauce over the pasta.
  • Toss for 2 minutes, pasta starch will help sauce thicken, along with residual heat. Add cooked bacon back to the mix.
  • If your sauce is too watery or loose, add more cheese. If you sauce is too thick and clumpy, slowly add additional pasta water. You may not use all of the pasta water.
  • Transfer to serving dishes and season with freshly ground pepper, Maldon sea salt and additional cheese. Serve immediately.
  • If you've tried this recipe, come back and let us know how it was in the comments or ratings.

Video

Notes

What if I forgot to reserve some of the pasta water? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve done this. My husband hears the curse word from the kitchen and he doesn’t even ask, instead yelling in “forgot to save some water!” I even put the measuring cup with a ladle right by the cooktop, still I fail. So I have also become really good and finding alternate solutions. The easiest is just a small amount of cornstarch in water. About 1 tablespoon for 1 cup of water. Afterall, pasta water is just starchy water. 

Nutrition

Calories: 569 kcal, Carbohydrates: 57 g, Protein: 22 g, Fat: 26 g, Saturated Fat: 9 g, Cholesterol: 224 mg, Sodium: 443 mg, Potassium: 302 mg, Fiber: 2 g, Sugar: 2 g, Vitamin A: 305 IU, Calcium: 131 mg, Iron: 1.8 mg
Author: Jessica Formicola
Calories: 569
Course: Main Course, Main Dish
Cuisine: Italian
Keyword: easy carbonara recipe, spaghetti carbonara
Did you make this recipe?I’d love to see your recipes – snap a picture and mention @savoryexperiments or tag #savoryexperiments!
collage of carbonara
Jessica Formicola in her ktichen

About the Author

Jessica Formicola

Jessica the mom, wife and food lover behind Savory Experiments. She is obsessed with butter, salt and bacon and spends all her time in the kitchen and behind a camera. Jessica is a contributor to PopKitchen by Parade, Better Homes & Gardens, The Daily Meal Food + Travel and more!

Read More About Jessica

Join The Discussion

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recipe Rating




Questions and Reviews

  1. 5 stars
    We used pancetta and the flavor was amazing!! We did use most of the reserved pasta water as it was pretty thick. We also added frozen peas and sun-dried tomatoes. We will definitely be making this again!!

  2. 4 stars
    Excellent recipe, however, truly authentic carbonara uses guancile, pork jowl, as its protein. The rendered fat from guancile, when used to coat the pasta prior to adding it to the egg mixture, produces that silkiness that is so hard to achieve. The rest of your ratios are superb.

  3. Thanks for getting back to me so quickly about the bacon slices! Just one more question I forgot to ask; I love my pasta to be quite hot but when I watched your video I wondered how hot this would be by the time I brought it to table? I guess this is why everyone rushes to do everything at once? So the bacon, pasta and pasta water are all hot?

    1. Exactly! You also need the heat of the pasta to “cook” the sauce. I will say, no carbonara will ever be super piping hot though since you can’t really heat it further after putting on the cold-ish sauce. If you do, the sauce will thicken and be kind egg-like. But yes, the rushing is so it stays hot and is best served immediately. If I am serving a salad, I even have folks eat their salad before I make the carbonara.

      Your other option is to make the pasta, drain it and toss very lightly in olive oil. When you are ready to serve, reheat the bacon grease up hot, toss the pasta in hot bacon grease to reheat it and then add the egg mix. It won’t be steaming hot, but certainly the best way to get it all ready and then execute.

    1. It really depends on how thick cut the bacon is, but a normal size pack of bacon is about 16 ounces, so estimate aout 2/3 of that, about 8-10. But honestly, you can add more or less, it doesn’t have to be exactly 10 ounces.

  4. 4 stars
    While I would normally agree with you that “pasta water needs to be as salty as the sea,” I do not recommend salty pasta water for this recipe. In most pasta recipes the water is dumped out and not used as one of the ingredients, but the water in this recipe is used to make the sauce. I just made this recipe for for dinner and it was too salty to eat.

  5. 5 stars
    I love carbonara! My Italian hubby makes it very often. We use bigoli which is a kind of thick spaghetti from here in Veneto. Somewhere between bucatini and spaghetti. Your carbonara looks delicious. However, guanciale is actually the more traditional ingredient for carbonara but because it is fattier and more expensive, many people use pancetta instead.

  6. 5 stars
    My husband and I love this recipe! This recipe is absolutely delicious and easy to make. I already shared it with friends and famiy

  7. 5 stars
    OMG this looks DIVINE. I just happen to have these ingredients so am going to make it tonight for dinner – – if I can wait that long!